Ethical Wildlife Control
The Fur-Bearers believe that evidence-based, ethical decision-making should be a priority in all wildlife management.
Wild animals are often the subjects of ‘control’, where a variety of actions are taken to manage and respond to negative encounters with wildlife (also called human-wildlife conflicts). These control actions can include exclusion, trapping, shooting, capturing, relocating, translocating, and poisoning animals. When there is a real or perceived issue involving wildlife and animals considered ‘pests’ or ‘invasive species’, governments, companies, and other entities act to manage the problem, often resorting to methods that harm or kill animals without serious consideration of alternative approaches or rigorously examining whether the intervention is justified.
Wildlife have been subjected to problematic, unethical, and inhumane interventions throughout Canadian history, as prevailing belief systems guiding wildlife management frameworks and approaches towards wildlife control are rooted in anthropocentric worldviews.¹ But as social norms and public attitudes towards the treatment of animals change, and as our understandings of animal sentience, emotions, cognition, behaviour, and biology advance, there is both a need and a demand to incorporate ethics into policies related to wildlife control. In 2015, experts gathered in British Columbia to examine flawed and inhumane approaches to wildlife control. From this, they developed a set of evidence-based principles that provide a common decision-making framework.² These became the International Consensus Principles for Ethical Wildlife Control, published in 2017.³
These principles provide a framework to examine and analyze situations prior to undertaking control actions, ensuring that thorough assessments are conducted, all options seriously considered, and that any decisions are evidence-based. Seven questions should be asked to determine if proposed control actions meet or fail these principles. Detailed information for each principle is included in the original article or by clicking the infographic above to view the full size image. Click the drop down buttons below to reveal the corresponding question for each principle.
1. Can the problem be mitigated by changing human behavior?
2. Are the harms serious enough to warrant wildlife control?
3. Is the desired outcome clear and achievable, and will it be monitored?
4. Does the proposed method carry the least animal welfare cost and to the fewest animals?
5. Have community values been considered alongside scientific, technical, and practical information?
6. Is the control action part of a systematic, long-term management program?
7. Are the decisions warranted by the specifics of the situation rather than negative labels applied to the animals?
The Fur-Bearers recommends these principles to be formally adopted into the decision-making at all levels of government, businesses, and other entities; from municipalities and private corporations, to provinces and crown corporations, to the federal government and its various agencies. The desired outcome should always be coexistence with wildlife – not control of wildlife – and these principles provide a sound framework to question and assess current approaches.
Citizens can support this framework by engaging with their governments and elected representatives when control actions are considered, challenging officials to consider and answer to each principle before any action is taken towards wildlife. Citizens can also call upon their governments to formally incorporate these principles to guide their policies and procedures. For example, a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) introduced a motion in 2022 to integrate these principles into the Scottish Government’s approach to wildlife management.
There needs to be a paradigm shift in how policymakers respond to human-wildlife conflicts, one in which ethical decision-making is at the forefront of wildlife management. Adopting these principles is an important step in that direction.
¹ Foran, M. (2018). The Subjugation of Canadian Wildlife: Failures of Principle and Policy. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
² Dubois, S. (2019). Killing for Conservation: Ethical Considerations for Controlling Wild Animals. In Bob Fischer (Ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Animal Ethics. (1st Edition, pp 407-419). Routledge.
³ Dubois, S., Fenwick, N., Ryan, E.A., Baker, L., Baker, S.E., Beausoleil, N.J., Carter, S., Cartwright, B., Costa, F., Draper, C., Griffin, J., Grogan, A., Howald, G., Jones, B., Littin, K.E., Lombard, A.T., Mellor, D.J., Ramp, D., Schuppli, C.A. and Fraser, D. (2017). International consensus principles for ethical wildlife control. Conservation Biology, 31: 753-760. https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12896